Getting Into Medical School

What do you need to get into medical school? Before considering the question, it is important to realize a few points:

  1. It is a competitive process. Medical schools do not take all applicants that meet certain requirements; they take the best students that they can get out of a large pool of applicants. Both the criteria that they use to assess ‘the best applicants’ (what ‘best’ means to them) and the applicant pool change with time.  Hence, it is impossible to give you a list of things to do to guarantee that you will be accepted; there are no guarantees in life. 
  2. Not all medical schools are the same; their evaluation criteria and evaluation processes differ.  This fact makes it important that applicants apply to multiple schools.  It also makes it more difficult to give generic advice about what to do to gain admission.
  3. Medical schools do not tell premedical advisory committees (or anyone) exactly what their criteria and evaluation processes are.  They give us hints, but mostly we just operate from conclusions drawn on what happens to our applicants.  We certainly do not have perfect knowledge.

It might be useful to view University of Buffalo's compilation of med school myths, or AAMC's common questions about Getting into Medical School (PDF).

The following are significant factors in allowing you to be a competitive applicant for medical school:

Grades

Medical schools want excellent students, students that will quickly learn the vast quantities of material that they want physicians to have.  Your ability as a student is primarily demonstrated by your GPA, but is also reflected in your recommendation letters from faculty, your MCAT scores, your choice of courses, and the courseloads you carried each semester.  For allopathic medical schools, the mean GPA of accepted students is over 3.5 and our experience is that a GPA below 3.3 is tough to overcome; for osteopathic schools, the numbers are slightly lower.  Medical schools also parse your grades different ways (science GPA, non-science GPA, GPA by year, etc.).  Since much of what you learn in medical school involves science, your science GPA should demonstrate that you can understand science. 

Note that if you take courses at other institutions, these grades are not included in your Geneseo GPA, but they will be used to calculate your GPA for your medical school application.

MCAT Exam

Nearly all medical schools require applicants to take a standardized test called the Medical College Aptitude Test.  The structure of the test has just changed; it now  has four components examining: biology/biochemistry, chemistry/physics, verbal reasoning, and the psychological, social and biological basis of behavior.  The new test was given for the first time in spring of 2015 we have limited experience with it.  Although our courses are not specifically designed with the MCAT in mind our students have performed well in the past and we expect this to continue in the future.  Because the test is rigorous it is important that students are challenged in their coursework and we feel that our courses are challenging and demand that students work hard to develop understanding.  It is important that pre-medical students not try to choose the easiest line through college; challenging courses, not just in the obvious areas tested on the MCATs, are important in developing the skills needed to perform well on the exam.

Because the exam is rigorous and students should plan on devoting a substantial amount of time preparing for it.  Most of our students utilize test preparation classes (e.g. Kaplan, Princeton Review), but some students prepare successfully on their own.  No matter how good your GPA is, you will not get into medical school unless you do well on this exam!

Medical Experience

Medical schools do not want to admit bright students who find out in medical school that they don’t like hospitals.  Hence, they want their applicants to have had some direct exposure to what medicine is.  This primarily comes from volunteer/work experience.  Although the amount of experience is modest (especially when compared with what other professional schools, e.g. physical therapy or physican’s assistant, require),  it is absolutely essential that applicants to medical school have some direct exposure to medicine.

Students gain experience by volunteering in hospitals, clinics or individual practices.  Many Geneseo students get experience from participating on the campus emergency squad, the Town of Geneseo emergency squad, or the emergency squad in their hometown.  Except for the local emergency squad activity, most of these activities occur during the summer or winter breaks.

Personal History

To get into medical school you need things that make you stand out from all the other students applying with good grades and high MCAT scores.  You need to demonstrate that you have attributes that are needed in the medical profession:  a desire to work hard, an ability to learn quickly, a compassion for others, good interpersonal skills, time management skills, leadership, organization, and decision making skills, etc.  Applicants don’t need to demonstrate all these characteristics, but they should be able to demonstrate some of them.  How these features can be exhibited depends upon the student.  It could be in academic ventures (independent research, dual majors, special awards and fellowships), in extra-curricular activities (involvement with athletics, dramatics, campus volunteer work), or in extra-mural activities (summer employment or volunteer work).